With its huge, intimidating hill around the 2-mile mark, the Harlan County High School cross country course is one of the toughest in eastern Kentucky.
Somebody forgot to remind the Black Bears of that Tuesday evening.
The varsity boys squad came up just shy of a perfect score as eight runners posted times under 21:00 en route to a dominant victory in the Harlan County All-Comers meet.
Harlan County coach Ryan Vitatoe was especially pleased with the performance coming off the Black Bears’ subpar third-place finish Saturday at Corbin, in which the Black Bears were beaten by a Knox Central team they had previously defeated by more than 40 points.
“I’m proud of our performance tonight. I’m really proud of how the boys bounced back from our worst performance of the season on Saturday, to running possibly our best race so far,” Vitatoe said. “This was the best focus I’ve seen out of them all season, and they worked well together the entire race.”
Harlan County boys took five of the top six spots Tuesday, led by sophomores Josh Lee and James Dean, who finished first and second with times of 18:52.94 and 18:56.56, respectively. Alex Lewis came in third with a time of 19:13.34. Bell County’s Jonathan Henry (19:28.97) broke up the bid for a perfect score with a fourth-place finish, followed by Harlan County’s Zackary Carmical (19:35.56) and James Chasteen (19:44.81). Dalton Shepherd (eighth, 19:56.09), Seth Sanders (10th, 20:09.34) and Cody Howard (12th, 20:18.75) also turned in sub-21:00 performances.
Also participating for Harlan County were Ben Lewis (18th, 21:27.21), Ulysses Roque (19th, 21:28.31), Sean Cooper (21st, 21:50.22), A.J. Teagle (31st, 23:31.24), Ryan Kilgore (36th, 24:12.81), Andrew Crawford (42nd, 26:49.34) and Jose Roque (43rd, 27:14.41)
Bell finished second, followed by Letcher County Central.
The girls turned in an impressive performance as well, rolling to a 27-point win over second-place Letcher Central.
“The girls were great tonight as well,” Vitatoe said. “They have been improving each meet, and you can really tell we’re beginning to round into shape as a team. They ran a great race as a team, and it should be a confidence boost for them.”
Senior Allison Cornett came in second with a time of 23:22.18, followed by sophomore Phebe McHargue, who posted a time of 23:26.46 and finished third. Breezy Epperson (25:24.81), Katie Graham (25:38.88) and K.K. Johnson (25:49.91) finished seventh through ninth, respectively. Katelyn Hensley (26:34.41), Jordan Blevins (26:34.68) and Shiann Westfelt (26:39.12) claimed 11th- through 13th-place finishes.
Rounding out the Lady Bears’ results were Emma Day (15th, 26:58.94), Briana Roque (16th, 27:08.09), Taylor Jordan (22nd, 28:43.12), Mackenzie Combs (23rd, 29:13.41), Janice Dean (25th, 29:56.37), Laura Creech (28th, 31:06.18), Grace Dean (31st, 32:23.06), Amanda Caudill (32nd, 32:38.41) and Madison Roark (33rd, 32:56.97).
Harlan freshman Lucy Bryson finished 17th with a time of 27:24.09.
Middlesboro’s Mallory James was the individual winner, posting a time of 23:07.18. Rounding out the top five, after Cornett and McHargue, were Leslie County’s Keinsey Forgey and Letcher’s Gracie Howard with times of 23:27.56 and 24:06.18, respectively.
The Harlan County elementary teams also claimed team victories Tuesday.
The boys took the top six spots, led by individual winner Brayden Blakley (9:06.34) and runner-up Austin Crain (9:10.46). Junior Sanchez (10:23.38), Bryan Howard (10:24.81), Andrew Yeary (11:09.56) and Bradley Brock (11:33.56) finished third through sixth, respectively. Tristan Cooper (13:18.50) finished ninth, followed immediately by Braxton Crane (13:24.69) and Ethan Lewis (13:37.31).
Harlan County’s Sophie Day was the individual girls winner with a time of 12:36.06, followed by Harlan’s Mia Pace with a time of 12:39.68. Harlan County’s Emily Honaker (15:14.12), Kaydie Coots (16:15.22), Abby Sherman (18:09.94) and Adrianna Hockenberry (18:19.88) rounded out the girls results.
The Bears edged Bell County by one point in the boys middle school race to make it a clean sweep in the team competitions.
Harlan County was led by Matt Yeary and Daniel Joseph, who finished second and third, respectively, with times of 13:36.44 and 13:38.18. Cooper McHargue came in fourth with a time of 13:46.81. Rounding out Harlan County’s results were Lucas Epperson (ninth, 14:22.87), James Honaker (11th, 14:51.94), Jarrett Austin (13th, 16:38.31) and Joseph Gordon (18th, 19:45.21).
Bell County’s Caden Miracle was the individual winner, posting a time of 12:25.31.
Harlan County seventh-grader Ariel Madden was the girls winner with a time of 15:03.53.
“I’m also very proud of our middle and elementary kids tonight. They all ran great,” Vitatoe said. “We had tons of (personal records) from the elementary kids all the way up to the varsity. It was a very good night for us and helps us to get prepared for our next meet.”
The varsity squad will travel to Ashland on Saturday for the Boyd County Invitational. The whole team returns to action Oct. 1 at home in the Black Bear Invitational.